Run-up: The Road to Iraq

Run-up: The Road to Iraq

Since 2004, accounts of how the Bush administration maneuvered the country into a war of choice in Iraq with the false claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction have quickly made it on to the best-seller list. It is easy to see why. While in power, Bush and his supporters often seemed indifferent to the charge that they had invaded Iraq without having hard evidence of Saddam’s military capability. As Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy defense secretary, told the press in 2003, “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons for mass destruction as the core reason.”

Today, the trouble with these accounts of the Bush administration’s approach to the Iraq War is that they provide too narrow a picture of America in the wake of 9/11. They fail to show how in the eighteen-month run-up to the Iraq War between September 11, 2001, and the start of combat operations on March 20, 2003, the United States developed a 9/11 culture that made war seem like a logical next step in preventing another terrorist attack.

To say this is not to exempt the Bush administration from the charge that it was so determined to go to war with Iraq that it was willing to use dubious intelligence—or simply cherry-pick the facts—in order to justify invasion. But it is to argue that blame for the Iraq War cannot simply be put on the deceptions of the Bush administration, serious as these deceptions were. Such an analysis is too easy on the rest of us. It ignores the widespread anger that early on led the New York Post to print a column calling on the president to “kill the bastards” responsible for 9/11 and “if Saddam Hussein makes so much as a peep, do him, too.” The 9/11 culture that emerged in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon owed much to the Bush administration’s maneuverings, but by 2002, that culture had taken on a life of its own that made what the Bush administration did openly even more important than what it did covertly.

America the Vulnerable
In a 2004 essay, “Addicted to 9/11,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared, “I want a president who can one day restore Sept. 11 to its rightful place on the calendar: as the day after Sept. 10 and before Sept. 12. I do not want it to become a day that defines us. . . . We’re about the Fourth of July.” Friedman’s resentment of the way in which 9/11 has been inflated certainly makes sense, but at the same time, he is far too dismissive of the reasons why 9/11 quickly went from being a terrible event to a state of mind.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon shocked the country in a way that went far beyond the immediate loss of life and property they caused. The World Trade Center had been attacked once before. On February 26, 1993, Ramzi ...